The Search for Imperfection: Strategies for Coping with the Need to be Perfect
While perfectionism is a trait found in various forms both in the general public and across anxiety disorders (Antony, Purdon, Huta, & Swinson, 1998), it often holds a particularly focal place in the experiences of individuals with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Theory and research regarding the role of perfectionism in OCD suggest that at its core, perfectionistic thinking and behavior in OCD stem from an ongoing effort to avoid the discomfort that results from a sense of uncertainty, danger, judgment from others, or imprecision. Although it is likely that all individuals are motivated to some degree by the avoidance of these negative outcomes, several theorists have suggested that in OCD, the desire to avoid discomfort overtakes the desire to perform well or reach a specific goal (Frost, Novara, & Rhéaume, 2002). Whereas the desire to perform well might be seen as more characteristic of “healthy” perfectionism, perfectionism associated with an extreme desire to avoid discomfort can lead to the obsessive-compulsive traps all too familiar to those with OCD. Excessive perfectionism involves holding standards that are impossible to attain and experiencing negative outcomes (for example, anxiety or depression) when one’s impossibly high standards are not met.
Read More »